|Date(s):||January 2, 1830|
|Tag(s):||African-Americans, Economy, Government, Politics, Race-Relations, Slavery|
|Course:||“Rise And Fall of the Slave South,” University of Virginia|
The steamboat made it safely over the sand bar and arrived at the mouth of the Brazos River in Texas. Upon landing, William Hunter quickly composed a letter to his business associate James Perry to give tidings of his safe arrival. Hunter noted to Perry the presence of 30 Negroes on board and wrote of his plan to inquire of the owner, a settler from Alabama, about the means of their transport into the Mexican territory that was Texas. Hunter clearly expressed interest in importing slaves to Texas, and he was not an inconsequential businessman. Perry, the recipient of his letter, was the brother-in-law of Stephen Austin, the most important player in Anglo-American settlement of Texas, and Hunter conducted business with both of these men.
Though Hunter's life is poorly documented, much is known about his traveling companion, Stephen Austin. Austin's father, Moses Austin, originally negotiated with the Spanish government to secure a land grant and to bring 300 Anglo-American settlers to inhabit the sparsely populated northern reaches of Spain's North American possessions. Upon Moses Austin's death in 1821 (the same year that Mexico gained independence), the grant passed to Stephen Austin. The specific attention given by Hunter (and presumably shared by Austin) to the importation of slaves into Texas is of great interest due to its place in a primarily business-related letter and the early date at which it occurs. It appears that like other parts of the American South, slavery in Texas was associated with business and profit, regardless of slaveholders' professions of paternalistic sentiment toward enslaved people. Also, the fact that slaves were brought into Texas at such an early stage in Anglo-American settlement is important as it affected later national politics.
The Mexican government, in fact, frowned upon the form of slavery found in the United States. All slaves in Mexico were legally emancipated in 1829, however Austin's powerful friends managed to secure an exemption from this law for Texas. In composing the Civil and Criminal Regulations that governed his colony, the laws regarding slavery were the only ones imported directly from codes in the American South. Such Anglo-American support of slavery at the highest levels demonstrates both the pervasive nature of the institution and the reason that it eventually became such an issue of contention. In the years before Texas joined the United States, the annexation debate was influenced by Texas's possible status as a slaveholding state. Reminiscent of the conditions that necessitated the Missouri Compromise of 1820, Northern residents and anti-slavery forces were concerned with the balance of power shared by slaveholding and non-slaveholding states. In 1844 Democrat James K. Polk ran on a platform of annexing Texas and re-occupying Oregon, a bid to please both North and South. Thus, Hunter's seemingly innocuous comment regarding slaves being brought into Texas was actually a portent of turbulence to come.